Four Year Plan
The Four Year Plan was a series of economic measures initiated by Adolf Hitler, who put Hermann Göring in charge of them. Göring was made a Reich Plenipotentiary, whose jurisdiction cut across the responsibilities of various cabinet ministries, including those of the Minister of Economics, the Defense Minister and the Minister of Agriculture. The plan was part of the alternative governmental structure created by Hitler and the Nazi Party, which included entities such as Organization Todt and the unification of the SS and the German police forces, including the Gestapo, under Heinrich Himmler.
The primary purpose of the Four Year Plan was to provide for the rearmament of Germany, and to prepare the country for self-sufficiency in four years, from 1936 to 1940. Aside from emphasizing the rebuilding of the nation's military defenses, in disregard of the restrictions imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles after the German defeat in World War I, the Four Year Plan sought to reduce unemployment; increase synthetic fibre production, undertake public works projects under the direction of Fritz Todt, increase automobile production, initiate numerous building and architectural projects and further develop the Autobahn system.
Fearful of the reaction by industrialists and financiers over the increasing nationalisation of Germany's economy, Hitler's 1936 "Four-Year Plan Memorandum", also called for the Reichstag to enact "A law providing the death penalty for economic sabotage".
Role of Göring
Hitler extended to Göring the power to make law simply by publishing decrees, which enabled him to create other plenipotentiaries in overall charge of various industries. Göring constantly expanded the scope of the plan until he became the de facto master of the German economy, and the Office of the Four Year Plan became, along with his control of the Luftwaffe as an independent armed service, the power base that he had lacked since the weakening of the other government positions that he held. Göring held no significant position in the Nazi Party, and his influence before he took on the Four Year Plan has been based primarily on his public popularity as a war hero and his easy access to Hitler.
Although the appointment of Göring as head of the plan had short-term benefits to Hitler, in the long term, it was a disaster, as Göring knew next to nothing about economics, a factor that Hitler cited as one of the reasons for the choice.
The Four Year Plan favoured both the protection of agriculture and the promotion of autarky (economic independence) for Germany. Göring was put in charge of the Four Year Plan at its inception and given plenipotentiary powers. He had complete control over the economy, including the private sector, especially after the Minister of Economics, Hjalmar Schacht, had began to lose favour with Hitler for opposing the growing military expenditures at the expense of civilian economic growth. During the following years, the state, under Göring Works (Reichswerke), began building refineries, aluminium plants, and factories for the development of synthetic materials.
The Four Year Plan technically expired in 1940, but the "Office of the Four Year Plan", a cabinet-level agency, had grown to such a power base that the plan was extended indefinitely.
Rearmament was in direct violation of the strict terms set by the allies of World War I at the Treaty of Versailles. The German army was to be restricted to 100,000 men, and there were to be no conscription, tanks or heavy artillery or general staff. The German navy was restricted to 15,000 men and no submarines while the fleet was limited to 6 battleships (of less than 10,000 tonnes), 6 cruisers and 12 destroyers. Germany was not permitted an air force. Finally, Germany was explicitly required to retain all enlisted men for 12 years and all officers for 25 years so that only a limited number of men would have military training.
Following a tour of the German countryside in 1936, former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George said of the breach of the treaty that he had helped to formulate:
That Germany is rearming cannot be denied. After all the victors in the Great War except Britain disregarded their own disarmament pledges, the Führer abrogated the agreement which bound his own country, thus following the example of the nations who were responsible for the Versailles Treaty. It is today a commonly admitted part of Hitler's policy to develop an army strong enough to resist any attack, regardless of from which side it may come. I believe that he has already reached this point of inviolability.
In a September 1936 speech before the German Labor Front, Hitler explained the plan's focus and drew a comparison between the resources at Germany's disposal and those accessible to the "incapable" Bolsheviks. Some in the American press interpreted the speech as Hitler's call for war with the Soviet Union to obtain those resources. The correspondent for The New York Times put it this way:
There was no expression of a wish to acquire these resources and there was distinctly no threat. Yet when the cheers... had died away one was conscious that a thought had been cast into the pool of German mentality and that the ripples created by it might spread far indeed.
- Five-year plans for the national economy of the Soviet Union preceding the Nazi "Four-year plan" and giving it many of its elements.
- Bullock (1991), p.426
- Dawidowicz, Lucy (1976) A Holocaust Reader, New York: Behrman House. p.32
- Bullock (1991), pp.440-44
- Overy, Richard (1994) War and Economy in the Third Reich, Oxford University Press. p.16.
- Birchall, Frederick T. (September 13, 1936) "Hitler Tells Reich It Would Prosper With Soviet Lands" The New York Times
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